Ron Jenkins, AP Photo, File

Desert Hills alum Penei Sewell a top-pick candidate in way-too-early 2021 NFL mock drafts

By Sean Walker, | Posted - Apr. 28, 2020 at 8:09 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — The 2020 NFL Draft is in the books, from new Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to New York Giants linebacker Tae Crowder, the new Mr. Irrelevant.

In between was a local first-rounder, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who went to the Green Bay Packers with the No. 26 overall pick.

The next step for most prospects will be training camps this summer, with a handful of virtual workouts and organized team activities to help many of them get ready for the upcoming season.

But it’s never too early to look ahead to the 2021 NFL draft — and one former Utah high school standout may be looking ahead as much as anyone.

Former Desert Hills offensive lineman Penei Sewell was seeing all sorts of high numbers — single digits, even — as the first round of mock drafts hit the internet Sunday and Monday following the draft.

That includes No. 1, where Bleacher Report believes Sewell will go as the Bengals struggle next season and look to shore up protection for Burrow.

"Sewell's 2019 tape showed no weaknesses," Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller wrote. "If he continues to play at that clip in 2020, he'll be a lock to be the first overall pick if a team without a need at quarterback selects in this spot."

Building around Burrow would be a likely scenario for the Bengals, who most analysts project to finish among the 3-4 worst teams in the NFL even with the Heisman Trophy and national championship-winning quarterback from LSU.

"The Bengals have their franchise quarterback in Burrow, but their line play has been suspect," writes SB Nation’s Dan Kadar, who projects Sewell to Cincinnati at No. 3. "Sewell is a dominant force for Oregon and won the Outland Trophy last season."

Of course, it’s hard to pick anything but a quarterback for the No. 1 pick. Only three times in the last decade has a nonquarterback been selected first overall, and the last time a team picked a lineman with the first pick was 2013, when the Chiefs selected offensive tackle Eric Fisher.

Sewell could be the next No. 1 pick.

Or it could be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who The Athletic’s Dane Brugler projects with the first overall selection. Same for Sports Illustrated.

But even in those cases, Sewell is projected to go No. 2 overall, including in Brugler’s mock analysis to Washington.

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, right, hugs offensive lineman Penei Sewell after their win against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"If Dwayne Haskins continues to struggle in Year 2, this pick could easily be another Ohio State quarterback," Brugler wrote of the No. 2 pick. "But if Haskins takes a step in the right direction, then continuing to build around him should be the goal, including at left tackle where Sewell can fill the shoes of the departed Trent Williams."

Whether one, two or "only" in the top-five, Sewell is proving to be a generational talent on Oregon’s offensive line. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound tackle has already made history before his junior season with the Ducks.

Sewell, who was born in American Samoa but grew up in St. George before his family moved to Orem, was the first sophomore to win the Outland Trophy given to the nation’s top lineman. He’s also the first Outland winner of Polynesian descent, and the first in Oregon football history.

He, LaMichael James (2010) and Marcus Mariota (2014) are the only players in Ducks program history to be voted as unanimous first-team All-Americans.

Sewell finished his sophomore season with the Ducks, who are 17-3 when he’s in the starting lineup, as the top-graded offensive lineman in the history of Pro Football Focus, which has been around since 2014. He allowed just one sack while playing 1,376 snaps over the past two seasons.

Former Bingham High star Jay Tufele is also a projected first-round pick, at least according to SB Nation’s Kadar. The USC defensive tackle is currently projected to go No. 14 overall to the Broncos.

"Tufele improved as a pass rusher last season," Kadar wrote, "and would be a nice fit on a team that runs a lot of three-down linemen looks."

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